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Sunday, June 2, 2002
Last modified at 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday, June 5, 2002
© 2002 - The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

photo: sports

  Texas Tech's Andre Emmett slam dunks the ball during the Texas Tech vs. Texas Christian University (TCU) men's basketball game at the United Spirit Arena in Lubbock, Texas on December 1, 2001. Texas Tech beat Texas Christian University, 99-86.
A-J photo/Rebecca Breyer

Basketball growing in strength at Tech


Don't say it too loudly quite yet, but something strange has taken shape in Lubbock since March 2001.

After a lifetime of love in a football state, Lubbock showed signs of becoming a basketball town this year at Texas Tech.

Believe it or not, it's happening.

According to a recent survey by The Associated Press, Tech ranked second in the nation in combined men's and women's college basketball attendance for the 2001-02 season. The total combined attendance average was 26,287. Tennessee led the nation at 28,525.

Both teams earned simultaneous NCAA Tournament berths for the first time since 1996, led by a 23-9 record for the men and a 20-12 for the women.

''I think that every time somebody comes in here to play, whether it's against the women's team or the men's team, that what we've got to do is send those people out of here thinking, 'Man, I've never played in any place like this,' '' Tech men's head coach Bob Knight said.

''Let them go home saying, 'I wish we had fans like this,' '' he said.

By the end of a storybook season in March, most visiting players had done exactly that. Though portions of the upper deck rarely always filled, crowds often were big and vocal enough to help both teams register a combined 28-4 record at the 3-year-old United Spirit Arena.

The Lady Raiders went 13-2 at home en route to their 13th straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Likewise, Knight's Red Raiders went 15-2 at home to close a multifaceted breakthrough season ignited by the hiring of the Hall of Fame coach from Indiana on March 23, 2001.

Count the changes: men's season tickets increased from 6,842 to 12,423 in the few months after Knight's hiring; men's basketball revenue increased by an estimated $1 million; and Tech made five national television appearances last season after making one appearance in the previous two years combined.

''From our standpoint as an institution, it's been nothing but positive,'' Tech President David Schmidly said. ''I don't see it changing. I'll be amazed if it does.''

Much of the optimism is centered on heightened expectations for this year's team. The Tech men's team, which had experienced four losing seasons from 1998-2000, returns four of its five starters from last year's squad.

The pack is led by forwards Kasib Powell and Andre Emmett, a first-team All-Big 12 Conference player last year as a sophomore. Emmett, a native of Dallas, led the Big 12 in scoring in conference games with 21.5 points per game.

He also was one of several ''super sophomores'' becoming junior leaders for Tech basketball � men and women.

Knight's team last year featured a sophomore class of three. Marsha Sharp's women's team featured a celebrated nucleus of four sophomores becoming juniors in 2002.

Forward Casey Jackson, forward Jolee Ayers, guard Natalie Ritchie and guard Jia Perkins all are candidates to start as a class in Sharp's 21st year as head coach.

The Lady Raiders went to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament in March after a ''down year'' during the season, according to Lady Raider standards. Tech went 8-8 in conference play.

''We had a good run at the end,'' said Perkins, who led Tech last year with 16.1 points per game. ''Our team pulled together and played hard, and I think we're just going to have to transfer that to next year.''

Big crowds and big wins last year were just enough to give Lubbock a bigger feel as a basketball town in 2001. Just don't try to say it's not still a football town, though.

The Tech football team has been eligible for a postseason bowl game for nine straight seasons and remains the supreme cash cow for Tech after two straight years under head coach Mike Leach.

In Leach's first year, Tech finished 7-6. In his second, Tech overcame a murderous schedule to finish with a 7-5 record and a berth in the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio.

Some might describe it as the perfect appetizer for 2002. This fall, the Raiders endure perhaps the toughest schedule in the nation, including nine bowl-eligible teams from 2001.

''It might be the toughest in the country,'' Leach said. ''I don't know if anybody's got a tougher one. I'd like to see it if they do.''

The season starts with a nationally televised game at Ohio State on Aug. 24 before returning home to face more of the same tough games in Jones SBC Stadium, which is under renovation.

By 2003, most renovation projects will be finished, including a new westside stadium building with a new press box, club seats and stadium suites. An expansion of 10,000 seats remains on the drawing board pending the progress of Tech's fund-raising.

The entire project right now is valued at $84.9 million and will provide a more modernized home for the Raiders in the years AK - After Kingsbury.

After two years as starting quarterback, the coming season will be the last for Kliff Kingsbury, Tech's senior captain. The 6-foot-4, New Braunfels resident passed for 3,502 yards and 25 touchdowns with nine interceptions last year, giving him enough statistical credibility to become a possible Heisman Trophy candidate in the fall.

The school budgeted up to $50,000 to promote him for the award in what is expected to be his toughest season to date.

Ole Miss and North Carolina State loom on the non-conference home schedule on Sept. 21 and 28. Tech also faces road tests at Texas A&M, Iowa State, Colorado and Oklahoma, all of which were bowl teams last year.

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